The enterprise portal market continues to consolidate (BEA TO ACQUIRE PLUMTREE SOFTWARE), a move that has interesting implications for BEA and Plumtree users. On the positive side, BEA picks up a namespace company in the portal market. Plumtree helped defined the portal market back in the late nineties and has an impressive list of client accounts. However, the portal market as an independent entity is on the downside. This acquisition reinforces the argument that portal frameworks have become extensions of underlying application server platforms. Perhaps I'd be more optimistic of this move if it had happened 18-24 months ago so that by now, Plumtree would have been fully integrated within BEA's WebLogic platform. But as it stands, the move raises more questions than it appears to solve:
1. Both products will continue to be independent and supported indefinitely: The argument that BEA and Plumtree are different types of portals targeting different types of use case scenarios (e.g., transactional versus collaborative) really does not hold up. Portal infrastructure should be able to support both transactional and non-transactional use case scenarios. It's the portlets that are aggregated together around a particular user activity that make the experience transactional or collaborative. I should be able to use the same portal infrastructure to host portlets that drive different behaviors -- virtual portals should support personas for sales, marketing, project teams and other business processes. There are always exceptions and extremes but as a general rule you should not plan for this type of designed portal infrastructure redundancy.
This reminds me of the problems IBM experienced with its "Dual Highway" message a few years ago regarding Notes/Domino and Websphere/Workplace. Having two solutions with different architectures and infrastructure does not make customers leap for joy. There needs to be a firm roadmap about how the two entities come together and merge over time to avoid fear of "rip and replace" and complex migration/co-existence efforts.
2. The acquisition will expose new customers to BEA: The acquisition will indeed introduce BEA to a new set of portal sponsors and decision makers but that does not necessarily mean that there will be pull-thru in terms of WebLogic and other products. Since companies are often faced with multiple portal platforms already (e.g., SAP, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft), this might also make the case to more aggressively sunset Plumtree to avoid a BEA decision for non-BEA shops.
Users should ask a lot of questions around specific areas, for example:
1. How will WebLogic Workshop will support Plumtree (e.g., will there be a new set of portal extensions)?
2. Will the user profile service be common between the two portal products to ensure consistency of personalization, user management and setting of user privileges (common administration and portal infrastructure management should be a given)?
3. How will the overlapping content repository services be aligned?
4. How will portlets build for BEA's portal (that assume a certain UI design, look and feel, page flow, navigation structure, etc) work within Plumtree? Does this mean a broader commitment to WSRP by BEA and Plumtree clients? This also touches on the packaging of portlets for release management.
So overall I'll remain skeptical on this move. Hopefully there's more to come ... BEA would benefit from a build-out of more robust content management and collaboration services than what Plumtree has to offer. Or, a move into the application space would be interesting. There are still some best-of-breed, independent vendors in these spaces that have not yet been acquired.